My daughter isn't unusual in that she has two homes, and apart from all the emotional baggage that comes with divorce, perhaps the most stressful part of the arrangement is the need to plan ahead for transport of her goddamn textbooks. These are big, clunky, heavy objects, that aren't needed every night for homework, but when they are, they're absolutely necessary. And they're expensive, at $75.00 or more a pop.
It seems almost stupid that in a world full of iPads and laptop computers, our children are still lugging around 25 pounds worth of textbooks each day, when their content could be just as easily—if not better—represented on an LCD screen. I've often joked with my daughter as we've lugged her books in and out of the car, that—just as she gawks at the notion that I got through all but the final year of my academic career with little more than a pencil and typewriter—her children would marvel at the technological backwardness of her youth as they browsed the entire Library of Congress on their iPad 30 or Kindle Fusion or whatever the future gadget is.
"You carried books around?" they'd question, aghast, like a drug-crazed Dr. McCoy wailing over the barbarism of 20th century surgeons.
Well, as Paul has already reported, according to Apple, that future is now, with today's introduction of iBooks 2 and their new e-book creation tool, iBooks Author. And best of all, as of today, some of the most commonly used high school textbooks are now available for download at a relatively reasonable price of $14.99 or less.
Yeah, I know, these aren't the first e-textbooks, and it wouldn't surprise me if Amazon ultimately dominates this particular e-book niche. But given Apple's track record at transforming content markets, and the steady downward pricing pressure on tablet computers, I would be surprised if e-textbooks don't become the dominant medium within a decade or so. The advantages to students, schools, and publishers should be obvious. (Well, maybe not to publishers, but if they can bring themselves to jettison their printing and distribution infrastructure and fully embrace a subscription model, things will work out well for them too.)
Downloading a best-seller onto your Kindle or iPad may be a convenience, but it's hardly a better reading experience than a physical book. But textbooks are different. Apart from the size, weight, and price advantages inherent in the e-medium, these are texts that are just screaming for the inclusion of interactive content—animations, movies, music, spoken word recordings, etc. Pretty soon the very best textbooks won't even be available in print, because the print medium simply cannot support their most compelling and useful features. Once textbook creators take full advantage of this new medium, there will be no turning back. Schools and students simply won't let them.
Whatever platform prevails, this is the future of textbooks. And future generations of students will find it hard to believe that we ever did it any other way.